Situated at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley, Roanoke County is a bridge between the Valley and Southwest Virginia. Edged by the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the southeast, it has terrain that is ridged with more mountains and hills. About a third of its area is taken up by the independent cities of Roanoke and Salem, a good portion of it is in the Jefferson National Forest, and another segment is taken up by the Havens State Game Refuge. When the county was formed in 1838 from Botetourt (a portion of Montgomery was added later), Salem was established as its seat.
In the later part of the twentieth century, residential developments began to invade once-rural areas, especially around Roanoke, the region's largest city. For the moment, the Catawba Valley in the northwest, the county's earliest settlement area, has been able to maintain its agrarian character and is one of the best places to view nineteenth-century farm complexes in a reasonably intact rural setting. In less cohesive settings, the county also has a fair number of early-nineteenth-century brick Federal houses. Some impressive Greek Revival plantation houses reflect the area's mid-nineteenth-century agricultural prosperity. This prosperity brought time and money for health care and leisure and the subsequent development of resorts at Virginia's mountain springs.
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